Penumbra Theatre at 40


On view Feb. 18-July 30, 2017, at the Minnesota History Center.

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News Release

‘Art, Race and a Nation on Stage’ Sets Scene for New History Center Exhibit

For immediate release

Release dated: 
November 15, 2016
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Minnesota Historical Society 651-259-3148, jessica.kohen@mnhs.org
Lauren Peck, Minnesota Historical Society 651-259-3137, lauren.peck@mnhs.org

‘Art, Race and a Nation on Stage’ Sets Scene for New History Center Exhibit

Opening February 2017, Penumbra Theatre exhibit celebrates 40 years of African American artistic expression.

For 40 years, Penumbra Theatre has ignited social change through art grounded in the African American experience. Discover Penumbra with the new exhibit, “Penumbra Theatre at 40: Art, Race and a Nation on Stage,” Feb. 18 to July 30, 2017, at the Minnesota History Center.

Timed to open during Black History Month, this exhibit will help visitors gain a greater understanding of African American artistic expression. Through firsthand accounts, artifacts and immersive settings, visitors will get an introduction to Penumbra Theatre’s efforts to inspire, educate and reflect the pride and perseverance of the communities whose stories it tells.

The exhibit also features artifacts from the Givens Collection of African American Literature at the University of Minnesota Libraries. These works illustrate the trajectory of African American literature, theatre and thought that Penumbra has embraced and extended.

Related programs include:

  • Family Day: Artists, Activists, Innovators, Saturday, Feb. 18, noon to 4 p.m., free with admission: Meet costumed History Players, take part in art activities and get to know the History Hound. Plus, enjoy short performances by Penumbra Theatre actors from 1 to 3 p.m.
  • Penumbra Performances, second Tuesday of every month, March through July, 6 to 8 p.m., free:  Penumbra Theatre actors perform short scenes and monologues inside the exhibit.
  • A Conversation About Penumbra Theatre, Past & Present, Tuesday, April 25, 7 to 8:30 p.m., free: Join Penumbra founder Lou Bellamy and company members, along with Star Tribune theatre critic Rohan Preston for a conversation about creating theatre about race in America.

Throughout the run of the exhibit additional programs will be offered; check the online calendar of events for the latest program information.

Exhibit and Program Support
“Penumbra Theatre at 40: Art, Race and a Nation on Stage” is produced in partnership with Penumbra Theatre Company, the University of Minnesota Libraries’ Givens Collection of African American Literature and Umbra Search African American History. Funding for this exhibit is made possible in part by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008.

Location, Hours and Admission
The Minnesota History Center is located at 345 Kellogg Blvd. W. in St. Paul. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays (admission is free on Tuesdays from 3 to 8 p.m.), 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Auxiliary aids and services are available with advance notice. For more information, call 651-259-3000 or 1-800-657-3773.

Admission to “Penumbra Theatre at 40: Art, Race and a Nation on Stage” is included with regular History Center admission of $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and college students, $6 ages 5 to 17; free age 4 and under and MNHS members.

About the Minnesota History Center
The Minnesota History Center holds the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. The History Center is home to an innovative museum, engaging public programs, a research library, distinctive gift shops and Market House by D’Amico restaurant.

The Minnesota Historical Society is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. MNHS collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing. Using the power of history to transform lives, MNHS preserves our past, shares our state’s stories and connects people with history.

The Minnesota Historical Society is supported in part by its Premier Partners: Xcel Energy and Explore Minnesota Tourism.

Exhibit Experience

Penumbra: Exhibit Experience

For immediate release

Release dated: 
November 15, 2016
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Minnesota Historical Society 651-259-3148, jessica.kohen@mnhs.org
Lauren Peck, Minnesota Historical Society 651-259-3137, lauren.peck@mnhs.org

Penumbra: Exhibit Experience

“Penumbra Theatre at 40: Art, Race and a Nation on Stage,” Feb. 18 to July 30, 2017, at the Minnesota History Center.

Through this exhibit, visitors will learn about Penumbra’s early years and its roots in and commitment to St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood; signature plays and playwrights, including two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson; and profiles of various company members, all set against a backdrop of African American artistic history.

This exhibit is told through the voices of actors, directors, playwrights, community members, audience goers and critics. At the exhibit visitors will:

  • Step into a portion of the set for the play “Fences” by August Wilson
  • Sit at a dressing room table and hear Penumbra actors share their favorite stories
  • Watch multimedia presentations about the rich history and bright future of Penumbra Theatre, and its longest-running educational program, the Summer Institute
  • Explore the stories behind the images that make up a giant quilt wall, a replica of a quilt wall painted across the back of the Penumbra auditorium
  • Take a seat at an art table to color in costumes, sets, and playbills
  • View theatre artifacts, including costumes, playbills, props and set models
  • Discover the stories behind some of Penumbra’s most beloved plays, including “Fences” and “The Ballad of Emmett Till,” the popular annual holiday showcase “Black Nativity,” and a rare look at August Wilson’s first play, “Black Bart and the Sacred Hills”

Penumbra Theatre actors will perform short scenes and monologues inside the exhibit the second Tuesday evening of every month, March-July, 6-8 p.m.

Background

Penumbra: Background

For immediate release

Release dated: 
November 15, 2016
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Minnesota Historical Society 651-259-3148, jessica.kohen@mnhs.org
Lauren Peck, Minnesota Historical Society 651-259-3137, lauren.peck@mnhs.org

Penumbra: Background

“Penumbra Theatre at 40: Art, Race and a Nation on Stage,” Feb. 18 to July 30, 2017, at the Minnesota History Center.

Penumbra Theatre Company
Penumbra Theatre Company was founded in 1976 by Artistic Director Lou Bellamy to create a forum for African American voices in the Twin Cities theatre community. Through its commitment to providing realistic, inspirational works that redefine the consciousness of its audience, Penumbra quickly garnered praise and a loyal following.

Over the years, Penumbra Theatre Company has lived up to its mission of presenting artistically excellent productions that depict emotional, relevant and valuable experiences from an African American perspective. It has achieved national recognition for its quality productions and role in launching the career of many respected playwrights, including two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson.

In 2014, Sarah Bellamy, an educator and daughter of Lou Bellamy, was named Co-Artistic director of Penumbra Theatre. She has designed several programs that engage patrons in critical thinking, dialogue and action around issues of race and social justice and will become sole Artistic Director in 2017.

Today, Penumbra Theatre Company is Minnesota’s only professional African American theatre, and it is one of only three professional African American theatres in the nation that offer a full season of performances. Under the Co-Artistic Directors’ leadership, Penumbra has stayed on the cutting edge of the national theatre scene and continues to present groundbreaking productions.

Adapted from Penumbratheatre.org

The Givens Collection of African American Literature
The Givens Collection at the University of Minnesota Libraries consists of over 10,000 books, magazines and pamphlets by or about African Americans. Included are novels, poetry, plays, short stories, essays, literary criticism, periodicals and biographies that span nearly 250 years of American culture, with particular strength in the areas of the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement. The collection also includes the Penumbra Theatre Company Archives.

Umbra Search African American History seeks to make African American history more broadly accessible through various means including a freely available widget and search tool, umbrasearch.org; digitizing African American materials across University of Minnesota collections; and supporting students, educators, artists and the public through residencies, workshops and events locally and nationally. Umbra Search was developed by the Givens Collection of African American Literature at the University of Minnesota Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections, with partner Penumbra Theatre Company.

Adapted from www.lib.umn.edu/givens

Minnesota Historical Society
The Minnesota Historical Society holds many collection items related to African American artistic expression and history in Minnesota, including the Rondo Oral History Project, numerous photograph collections, digitized African American newspapers from St. Paul and Minneapolis, organizational records of African American social clubs and a collection of theatre programs, including from Penumbra, which were collected by theatre critic Peter Vaughan.

The Minnesota Historical Society Press has published several books on theatre in Minnesota, including “Offstage Voices: Life in Twin Cities Theater” by Peg Guilfoyle, which features interviews with Lou and Sarah Bellamy, and “All the Lights On: Reimagining Theater with Ten Thousand Things” by Michelle Hensley. MNHS Press has a number of other titles on African American history in Minnesota, including the recent book “A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota” edited by Sun Yung Shin.

Images

Penumbra: Images

For immediate release

Release dated: 
November 15, 2016
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Minnesota Historical Society 651-259-3148, jessica.kohen@mnhs.org
Lauren Peck, Minnesota Historical Society 651-259-3137, lauren.peck@mnhs.org

Penumbra: Images

The images may be used for editorial purposes in magazines, newspapers and online to promote “Penumbra Theatre at 40: Art, Race and a Nation on Stage,”  Feb. 18 to July 30, 2017, at the Minnesota History Center. Credit information is listed.

 

The Ballad of Emmett Till

In spring 2014, Penumbra staged “The Ballad of Emmett Till” by Ifa Bayeza, a play based on the 1955 brutal murder of a 14-year-old boy in Mississippi who was accused of flirting with a white woman.

Penumbra’s play was part of the theatre’s “Season of Hope.” The previous summer, George Zimmerman had been acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin. Parallels between the stories of Till and Martin were obvious; Penumbra held post-play discussions that explored these themes.

From left: Sha’ Cage, T. Mychael Rambo, Mikell Sapp, Darrick Mosley, H. Adam Harris.

Image courtesy Penumbra Theatre Company; photo by Allen Weeks

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Hallie Q. Brown children’s production of Snow White, 1948

As a community center formed by the Twin Cities Urban League in 1929, Hallie Q. Brown provided social services for African Americans. By the 1970s, its offerings included everything from homework help to exercise classes to culturally relevant programs in the visual arts, music, dance, and theatre. In 1976, Lou Bellamy was hired to expand the theatre program at the community center. The following year he founded Penumbra Theatre Company and became its artistic director.

Pictured is the Hallie Q. Brown children’s production of Snow White, 1948.
 

Image courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

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A portion of the set from the 2016 production of “Fences”

August Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Fences” in 1987. The play is set in 1957 and tells the story of Troy Maxson, a man who could have been a baseball star, but the color barrier prevented him from  making it out of the Negro Leagues. His bitterness over his lost chances spills onto his family—especially his son, Cory, a gifted football player whose dreams are dashed by his father. Penumbra’s first staging of the play was in 1990.

A portion of the set from the 2016 production of “Fences” will be on display in the exhibit. The play was directed by Lou Bellamy and co-produced by the Arizona Theatre Company, Indiana Repertory Theatre and Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Image courtesy Arizona Theatre Company; photo by Tim Fuller

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Book cover of Black Arts by LeRoi Jones

LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) was a Beat poet living in Greenwich Village in 1965 when Malcolm X was assassinated. Baraka reacted to this watershed moment by moving to Harlem, where he cofounded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School with Larry Neal. Baraka became a leader in the Black Arts Movement. This book, published in 1967, and other landmark publications from the period are featured in the exhibit.

Image courtesy Lou Bellamy Rare Book Collection, Givens Collection of African American Literature, University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis

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Scene from Black Nativity performance

Written by Langston Hughes and first performed in 1961, “Black Nativity” has become a holiday staple for many African American theatre companies.

At Penumbra Theatre, the story has been framed within different historical eras: the Reconstruction period, featuring the northward journey of recently emancipated African Americans; biblical times in northeast Africa; a contemporary setting in St. Paul and a retelling of the nativity story with choral accompaniment. Pictured are Novik Stubbs, T. Mychael Rambo and Phillip Bond in the 1988 production.

Image courtesy Penumbra Theatre Company; photo by Connie Jerome

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Costume sketch for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

August Wilson wrote “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in 1982. It tells the story of a jazz artist and her band in 1920s Chicago. It is part of  Wilson’s 10-play series, “The Twentieth Century Cycle,” which chronicles each decade of African American experience in the 20th century.

Penumbra staged the play in 1987, 1996 and 2011. Mathew J. LeFebvre designed the costumes for the 2011 production.

Sketch courtesy Mathew J. LeFebvre

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Spokespeople

Penumbra: Spokespeople

For immediate release

Release dated: 
November 16, 2016

Penumbra: Spokespeople

“Penumbra Theatre at 40: Art, Race and a Nation on Stage,” Feb. 18 to July 30, 2017, at the Minnesota History Center.

Lou Bellamy

Lou Bellamy, founder and artistic director emeritus
Penumbra Theatre

Under Bellamy’s leadership, Penumbra has grown to be the largest theater of its kind in America and has produced 39 world premieres, including August Wilson’s first professional production. Penumbra is proud to have produced more of Mr. Wilson’s plays than any other theater in the world. Mr. Bellamy is an OBIE Award-winning director, an accomplished actor, and for 38 years was Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. Directing credits include plays at Arizona Theatre Company, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Penumbra Theatre, Signature Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Cleveland Play House, Indiana Repertory Theatre, The Guthrie Theater, The Kennedy Center and Hartford Stage Company.

Sarah Bellamy

Sarah Bellamy, artistic director
Penumbra Theatre

Bellamy is a playwright, director and educator whose stated mission has been to use art for social change. She leads Penumbra’s community engagement efforts and heads Penumbra’s Summer Institute, a highly regarded leadership training program for teens. Bellamy earned a graduate degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago and is a 2015 Bush Fellow.

CM

Cecily Marcus, curator
Givens Collection of African American Literature/Umbra Search African American History, University of Minnesota Libraries

Marcus has served since 2009 as curator of the Givens Collection of African American Literature, the Performing Arts Archives, and the Upper Midwest Literary Archives. She also directs Umbra Search (umbrasearch.org), a national digital initiative that facilitates access to Black history. She received a B.A. from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies from the University of Minnesota.

Kate Roberts

Kate Roberts, senior exhibit developer
Minnesota Historical Society

Roberts has developed exhibits for the Minnesota Historical Society for more than 25 years. Highlights include “Minnesota A to Z,” the inaugural exhibit for the new Minnesota History Center Museum; permanent exhibits for the Mille Lacs Indian Museum in Onamia, Minnesota, and for Mill City Museum in Minneapolis; “Minnesota 150,” a groundbreaking crowd-sourced exhibit marking the state’s sesquicentennial; and “Toys of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s,” currently on national tour. She holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Minnesota.